"After being cruelly beaten by the 'Powerhouse'-difficult CPU in Tennis I realised I didn't have much more to do until the servers open on April 29".
I see myself here staring at the beautiful Spocco Square after another intense session of Nintendo Switch Sports. Its fantastic music alone nostalgically takes me back to the early days of the Wii Sports phenomenon, when everyone and their mother (literally) played tennis in their living rooms thanks to the brilliant, simple design of the game, which took advantage of motion controls in the most welcoming way to date. Hell, I'll even admit motion controls were one of the main reasons that got me into video game journalism even before the Wii was released.
However, it felt warmer back then. Not that I didn't sweat or exercise today -I truly did- it's just my first week with Nintendo Switch Sports felt colder in a figurative way, as if that feeling of nostalgia was telling me something else. Is Switch Sports too similar or not much evolved from the first two entries? Will the online portion add the warmth and the depth I'm missing?
With our pre-release review time limited to "Play Locally" and offline only, I really can't deliver a full verdict on the product. Yes, I did play all the six sports both solo and together with friends and family, but some forms of multiplayer only see themselves fully realised via online play, whereas everything related to player progression is tied to online matches.
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So for now, I can only speak about those six sports and how they feel. And while some of the things I will say today differ from my first hands-on impressions from a couple of weeks ago, I'd still recommend you take another look at them for a per-sport comment along with six clips of exclusive video footage.
Done? Perfect. Now, I will say my perception changed on two of the new events, where football isn't as bad (it can actually be really good in company) and volleyball isn't as brilliant. For the former, much as it might feel weird with hand-waving controls for the foot-kicking avatar, it actually feels fresh and freeing and even more relaxed as you can sit while you play. It's also the most varied and accurate in terms of movements even if they aren't realistic, and I'm really looking forward to trying it out in 4v4 online, as it's the only team-based discipline that gives room for some real multiplayer strategy.
Volleyball, however, even though it allows you to move the character with the analogue stick (I didn't realise at first!), can end up being a tad monotonous, even for 2v2 matches. The moves are varied, yeah, with serve, bump, set, spike, and block, but as it's all about timing when you think of it, it kind of breaks the immersion.
And that takes me to my main criticism about Nintendo Switch Sports so far: it's mostly about the timing. Volleyball, Badminton, and Tennis rely on timing too much in order to decide several aspects of your success, where I was expecting the 1:1 controls to have a bigger effect in 2022. I mean, yes, in Badminton you can swing left or right, but the true angle doesn't mean much and drop shots are button controlled. Then, in Tennis you'll notice improved tracking for topspin and slice, but lob shots are either too complicated or too unnatural, while the direction of the ball is still determined by your timing and nothing more.
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I do understand the auto-controlled run for better accessibility, but as these sports focus on hand gestures only, I was expecting a bit more detail, especially coming from Wii Sports Resort's table tennis, the different VR advancements we've been seeing as of late, or some of the more recent stuff we've seen with 1-2-Switch and the Zelda games, for example. Oh, and, by the way, the Wii Remote was much easier to hold and wield, and in Chambara I noticed the same kind of issues I had back then (when meaning to change the slash angle quickly), even though it's the only 1:1 game and comes with new variations.
And where I said football is nice given the dynamics and the varied, accurate hand moves, it'll also get a leg-controlled mode via Ring Fit Adventure's leg strap (also included with Switch Sports' retail edition), but guess what? Your kicks will be measured by timing no matter what you do, despite there being a ton of precise (but admittedly slower) leg moves on the fitness game.
This is why Bowling keeps being the best. Perhaps not the most fun, but the best implementation by far. It's accurate, it tracks a ton of movement and twists, and it comes with new obstacle courses and even a 16-player battle royale Survival mode.
But don't get me wrong, either. The franchise's outstanding appeal is still there, and I know I'll play a lot of of Switch Sports locally and potentially online. It looks more beautiful than ever, the new sports are well-executed ideas, and for those looking for its trademark welcoming experience, they will find it here. But what it holds in the long run, I'll tell you later, as after being cruelly beaten by the "Powerhouse"-difficult CPU in Tennis I realised I didn't have much more to do until the servers open on April 29.
It's a pity there's no single-player progression, though, given how good Nintendo has been traditionally in this regard. When online, I'll become a "Certified Pro" and climb from the E to the A ranks in the Pro Leagues, which will also unlock items for my Sports Mate (Mii or not Mii-based). I'll then assess how good some of the sports are when fully realised. For example, will it be easy to arrange 4-player-team football matches? Can I pair with a friend for Doubles Tennis? Will they be laggy? Stay tuned for my soon-to-be-completed review.
[Update] I kept playing for some more days and, while the online portion truly makes for an unequivocal reason to keep playing and getting better, some of the flaws from my offline time remain. And some become more glaring.
The fact that many of the swings are timing-based, as I explained above, together with the lack of depth to the potential motion-controlled actions you can perform, mean that there's some scripting to the moves of the mostly auto-running characters, faking some of the spaces and reactions every once in a while. And when you're competing with a real player, it's all the more infuriating to see your avatar laying on the ground in Badminton when it clearly was an easy shot or when you felt everything was under control in Tennis. With time I also learned how stamina impacts performance and precision, but the inaccuracy feeling remained.
Then, online single player progression is well structured and executed, having you earn the more points and cosmetics the more stellar your performance is, though you'll still miss more ways to play alone and offline, and thus something like a 'career'-type of mode or even training mini games to hone your skills would go a long way. As it is, and even if/when Golf is added, it still feels like it lacks ways to play whenever you can't gather friends and family at home.
Lastly, online connection and stability was surprisingly smooth during my sessions, even matchmaking me with seven other players for Football, which is a nice step for Nintendo. However, while the different customization options you unlock are pretty fancy, some of them haven't been adapted to the Mii type of character, which ruins the fun of their looks (and I'm not talking about facial traits which are obvious, but also accessories you wear).
All in all Nintendo Switch Sports is fun to play, a beautiful visual update and a nostalgic experience... but not in the best of ways, as it feels a bit too much like the classic and as Yoshikazu Yamashita and his team have been a bit too shy this time around in adding more depth, innovation, and content.
7 / 10
Beautiful presentation, fun and nostalgic to play, smooth and engaging online, good new sports.
A bit too conservative in terms of innovation and 1:1 mechanics. Lacks ways to play and progress offline. Mii customisation is very limited.